van der Linden, Sander
The social-psychological determinants of climate change risk
perceptions, intentions and behaviours: a national study.
PhD thesis, The London School of Economics and Political Science (LSE).
Although human-caused climate change is one of the greatest societal challenges of the 21st century, insights from social and environmental psychology remain underrepresented in the mitigation debate. This is surprising given that the collective potential for reducing national carbon emissions through changes in individual lifestyles and behaviours has clearly been demonstrated. Accordingly, this PhD thesis aims to provide a more systematic and detailed understanding of individual mitigation behaviour. It does so specifically by examining the social-psychological determinants of climate change risk perceptions, intentions and behaviours using a longitudinal UK national survey (N = 808, wave 1) and (N = 501, wave 2).
In total, three separate analyses were conducted using the national survey data. In the first analysis (chapter 4), a social-psychological model of climate change risk perceptions is advanced. The model proposes that public risk perceptions of climate change are influenced by three key psychological dimensions, namely; (i) cognitive, (ii) experiential and (iii) socio-cultural factors. Results confirm the model’s validity and show that nearly 70% of the
variance in risk perception can be explained by the model’s components. Main findings also provide empirical support for a distinction between personal and societal risk judgements and highlight important differences in their psychological antecedents. The second analysis(chapter 5) specifically investigates the interrelation between personal experience with extreme weather, affect and risk perception and situates their conceptual relationship within the cognition-emotion debate. Results provide strong support for a dual-process model, where risk perception and affect mutually influence each other in a stable feedback system.
In the third analysis (chapter 6), a domain-context-behaviour (DCB) model is advanced. The purpose of the model is to causally conceptualize and systematically organize the social-psychological determinants of climate change mitigation behaviours. A key aspect of the DCB model is the notion that environmental values (i.e. the “domain”) and climate change cognitions, norms and emotions (i.e. the “context”) do not influence specific mitigation intentions and behaviours (e.g. energy conservation) directly. Rather, they influence a broad and general orienting intention to help reduce climate change. This general intention in turn
activates and predicts specific mitigation intentions directly as well as indirectly via behaviour-specific determinants. Important differences emerge between high-impact and low-impact behavioural changes. Overall, results from this thesis have important implications for public policy, risk communication and behavioural change interventions.
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